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Guardian of the Dead Hardcover – April 1, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—Ellie Spencer wakes to the realization that there are empty beer cans at the foot of her bed and a boy on her floor. Neither is acceptable at her boarding school on the South Island of New Zealand. She remembers her promise to Kevin to assist with fight choreography for a production of Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by beautiful Iris Tsang, who, to Ellie's extreme annoyance, has a crush on Kevin. Ellie literally runs into mysterious and gorgeous Mark Nolan, receiving an odd shock in the process. He later warns her not to go out alone at night but then somehow causes her to forget their conversation while remembering his warning. On her way to practice one evening, Ellie crosses paths with a woman who sends a chill down her spine, only to find that this person, Reka Gordon, has been cast as Titania. Reka seems to have a power over Kevin that arouses Ellie's suspicions. In the background of all this strange interpersonal activity, news reports continue to cover the activities of a serial killer, the Eyeslasher, on the North Island. From this point, the weirdness and excitement increase exponentially. Healey has done a wonderful job of introducing Maori legends into modern life while using the play and Ellie's classics work to provide Shakespearean and Greek stories to bracket what, for most readers, will be a new mythology. This story starts off fast and strong and just builds from there.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Seventeen-year-old Ellie is spending a year at a New Zealand school while her parents vacation. Making friends gets easier when she puts her tae kwon do training to use by choreographing the fight scenes in a local college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there’s something she doesn’t like about the gorgeous actress Reka—maybe it’s the fact that her pupils disappear. On the other hand, there’s something she does like about hunky Mark—despite his tendency to hypnotize her. Both, it turns out, are locked in a mystical battle that is steeped in ancient Maori lore. Healey’s prose is a notch above others writing in this genre, and her take on Ellie's human relationships, especially with “frenemy” Iris and buddy Kevin is finely drawn. The supernatural story, however, never quite clicks. Still, the Maori legends that provide the basis for the plot (and which are further explained in an afterword) are a breath of fresh air after all the vampires, demons, and fairies out there. Grades 9-12. --Daniel Kraus
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Product Details

  • Series: AWARDS: ALA: Youth Media Award Winners 2011
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031604430X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316044301
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a slow starter, for me. VERY slow. It took me almost a week to get through the first half of the book, I just didn't feel engaged to read it. However, once things finally got going, this was a great read.

ROMANCE: I've found that most authors are great with the slow, tense, on/off, will they/won't they build up to a romance, and then once everything is out in the open, the spark fizzles. Karen Healey, I feel, does the opposite. I didn't really feel much regarding Ellie/Mark until after that point, but when I did, I absolutely loved them, truly. I wasn't feeling very engaged with any of the characters, really, until Ellie/Mark, and then I felt like they were acting relatably. So, for that alone, this book is unique and will garner fond memories when I think on it.

MAORI ELEMENTS: First, I loved, loved, loved that this book featured a cycle of mythology that I was completely unfamiliar with, so that was fun.

Those two things are what I really found unique about this book. Other stuff...Iris stood out as a wonderful, not-quite-main character. The pacing was very off in the beginning, I think, it was so hard to get into, but things smoothed out into a natural engaging pace, halfway through the book. I'm not sure I would recommend it. It's easy to say, now, having finished it, that you should totally slog through the beginning to get to the really great ending, but it wasn't so easy to spend a week kind of avoiding this book.

I'm debating between 3 or 4 stars. I would give the first half of the book 2 stars and the second half 5 stars. I would recommend this book, but tentatively. Consider reading a few chapters of this then reading something else until you get to the good parts, maybe?
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Format: Hardcover
After a beginning that could come right out of a YA Plot Generator, the rest of the book is so unformulaic it's actually astonishing. I'm not referring to the atypical use of M'ori mythology for the fantastic elements, which is pretty sweet I think, but more to the tone of the book. This book is horror. It's YA fantasy horror, so it does it with a softened edge and a sense of purpose, but it's still got that deliciously murky and baroque sense of someone discovering how broad and bizarre the world is, and hello, that is not all good. And our heroine has to deal with that. Being a colonizer living in a settled land: it has some consequences! Hybrid culture: it is often literally life-saving, but not unambiguously good! Keep an eye out for Iris' Crowning Moment of Awesome.

It isn't a perfect book (I don't think Ellie's clearly unreliable enough, though I know it was Healey's intent, which causes some issues because Ellie is occasionally clueless; I wish the opening had had fewer adjectives) but it is so, so good. It is a three course meal of a book in bite-size form, like a Wonka dinner pill, and it is highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Note: I actually gave this book 3 1/2 stars.

"Guardian of the Dead" was, unfortunately, hard to get into. For the first hundred pages or so, it felt like things kept starting to happen without ever actually happening. Some of these things, which were, in the scheme of things, mostly unimportant, were never really fully explained, which left me feeling slightly confused and turning back pages, trying to see if I had missed something. I hadn't.

In the beginning, I found it hard to get to know Ellie, and I found it hard to understand her relationship with Kevin and Iris. Her supposed obsession with Mark was never enough elaborated on to give me a sense that she actually had a crush on this strange, unwashed boy. Things that I assume were supposed to be used as foreshadowing or to add a bit of suspense left me frustrated more than anything else. I almost felt like the entire first 1/3 or even 1/2 of the book could have and should have been diminished down to 20 pages or so. She started too much that was unnecessary, and she didn't fully explain it.

Luckily, the book did eventually pick up. Ellie turned out to be a super cool, kick-butt, totally likable heroine. Her relationships with the people around her, once they started to make sense, were fun and fresh, even if her attraction to Mark was never developed enough to be believable. Things that had seemed boring in the first part of the book suddenly became interesting and full of life, as if they had just been introduced too early. The story itself was engaging, and, in the end, suspenseful. The descriptions seemed so accurate that at times I felt like I really was in Ellie's head, making sense of this new paranormal aspect to my previous normal world in the same way she was.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ellie is attending a boarding school in New Zealand as her parents travel in celebration of her mother’s recovery from cancer. While life at school seems fairly normal, there has been a series of murders in the area, with each victim having their eyes gouged out. She is convinced to get involved with a production of a play, helping out as a fight coordinator by her friend Kevin, who starts to become obsessed with one of the cast members, a woman who claims to be “allergic” to the smell of cooked food. She has her own mystery man in Mark Nolan who suddenly is very present in her life. What starts out as a young adult romance/mystery is blended with Maori magic and mythology as a young woman finds out she has powers she never dreamed of and her world is far different than she ever imagined.
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